At the time we wrote this, there were 2,823 emojis in Unicode Standard (the character coding system used by mobile phones to ensure that messages are readable on different types of devices). That’s a lot of little images, and more are added every few years.
Given the glut of smiley faces and eggplants filling our emoji dictionaries, it’s no surprise that we misuse some of these symbols. Fortunately, the Unicode Standard includes official shorthand descriptions for every emoji.
Here’s a look at a few popular emojis that you’re probably using incorrectly—along with a few not-so-popular symbols with somewhat baffling descriptions.
How You Use It: Most people use this as a face with “jazz hands.” You throw it up on your group chat when you want to show that you’re excited about something—excited enough to do jazz hands, apparently.
What It Means: This is listed as a “hugging face,” so we guess the emoji is hugging itself. Either that, or it’s putting its arms out for a hug, but it has short little T-Rex arms, so it’s unable to do the job properly.
How You Use It: You might use this emoji to represent soup, since it looks like soup. Granted, you’re probably not texting about soup every day, but every once in a while, you pull out the soup emoji to impress your friends.
What It Means: It’s listed as a “teacup without handle,” so use this when you want to show your pals that you’re drinking tea, but you’re too cool to use a normal mug.
How You Use It: To show off your new haircut, or to show that you’re flipping your hair in a show of confidence. It’s a woman framing her hair with her hand; there’s not a lot of other ways to interpret that gesture…right?
What It Means: This is “person tipping hand,” so it’s technically a person asking for a tip. It’s also known as “bellhop,” “concierge,” or “information desk woman.” Seriously, who holds their hand that high when they’re asking for a tip?
How You Use It: To show that you’re laughing, or, if you’re a baby boomer who doesn’t understand emojis, to show that you’re crying.
What It Means: This is specifically the emoji for “rolling on the floor laughing.” Use it when you intend to show you’re laughing so hard that you’ve dislocated something. If you’re not on the floor, use one of the other laughing emojis, or we’ll call the cops.
How You Use It: To show that you’re exasperated. You’ve had a hard day at work, you’ve just received some bad news, and your significant other asks you how you’re doing, so you respond with a quick 😪 and wonder whether you could nap in your car in between meetings.
If you’re slightly gross, you might also use this one to indicate that you’re sneezing, since there’s clearly some sort of fluid coming out of this emoji’s nose area.
What It Means: It’s called the “sleepy face,” so the typical usage isn’t far off, but “sleepy” is different from “exasperated,” and we’re getting really, really pedantic with this list. Hey, emojis are serious business.
How You Use It: Look, we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that you’ve never used this emoji. If you have, you’ve probably used it as a stand-in for wheat. Maybe you live on a farm, so you text your dad, “Hey, I’m done planting the 🌾.” Otherwise, we doubt you’ve come across this particular icon.
What It Means: It’s a sheaf of rice. We’re sure that you’ll use this emoji constantly now that you know what it is.
How You Use It: It’s a sad face, and it appears to be crying, so this one seems pretty simple. You use it when you’re sad. Case closed, right?
What It Means: This is “sad but relieved face.” Look closely, and you’ll notice that’s not a tear; it’s a bead of sweat. Use this when you’re sad, but you’re glad the situation wasn’t worse.
How You Use It: You know how you use it.
What It Means: It’s an eggplant. Let’s just leave it at that. 🍑 is a peach, by the way.
How You Use It: This one’s easy, right? You use this to show that you’re angry at something. Look at that angry little guy. He’s clearly had enough. There is literally no other way to use this emoji.
What It Means: It’s “persevering face,” so you’re supposed to use it when you’re persevering through difficult times. That makes us angry, but apparently we can’t use 😣 to express that.
How You Use It: This is sort of similar to the previous emoji. It looks like the face of total frustration. You use it when you’re exasperated or angry.
What It Means: This is “tired face,” so you’re supposed to use it when you’re tired…but not sleepy, because that’s 😪. We don’t really see it, either.
How You Use It: To show that you’re surprised. Someone drops some weird news on you, and this seems like a great emoji to use in your response.
What It Means: It’s “fearful,” so you should actually use it when you’re scared (especially if you’re so frightened that the top of your head turns blue).
How You Use It: Well, it’s a hand, so it seems like a solid choice if you want to give someone a digital high-five (assuming you’re too good for the fist-bump emoji). You could also use it to tell someone to talk to your hand, particularly if your face ain’t listening.
What It Really Means: This is “raised back of hand,” so it doesn’t really work for either of the two purposes we just outlined. Maybe you could use it to tell someone that you just got a manicure?
How You Use It: We’ve seen a lot of people use this to say that they’re grinning. In fairness, the emoji is showing its teeth, so a grin isn’t out of the question, but it’s not exactly smiling, is it?
What It Really Means: This is a “grimacing face” emoji. If your friend skins his knee—and, uh, texts you about it for some reason—this would make a good reply.
How You Use It: Well, it’s a devilish face, so you use it when you’re feeling slightly devilish. You might add this to a message when you want to indicate that your intentions are slightly mischievous.
What It Really Means: This is an ogre, apparently. We don’t have to tell you this, but there’s a big difference between an ogre and a devil. Use it when you’re feeling ugly, or when you’re feeling cannibalistic. By the way, there’s also a goblin emoji (👺), so if you want to describe a monster via emoji, you’ve got a few options.
How You Use It: You use this when you’re keeping it 100. If you’re under the age of 30, you know what that means; if you’re over the age of 30, don’t worry about it.
What It Really Means: The official description is “hundred points,” so this is particularly useful if you’re a teacher and you’re…uh, handing out grades via text message. Look, sometimes the adopted usage is better than the intended usage.
How You Use It: You might use this to the end of an exclamation for emphasis, or you might use it to say “no” to something.
What It Really Means: It’s supposed to be “anger.” We prefer just using the angry face emoji for that, but hey, to each their own.
How You Use It: If you’ve ever used this, you probably used it to indicate a road, or to show that you’re traveling through the wilderness. You have to dig pretty deep in the emoji menus to find this, though.
What It Really Means: The shortcode description is “national park.” There’s truly an emoji for everything.
How You Use It: To show that something’s exciting. You might also use it to describe a big explosion (hopefully, you’re not in that situation too often).
What It Really Means: It’s supposed to be a “collision,” according to Unicode. Put it between two other emojis, and it makes a bit more sense. For instance, if you got hit by a car, you could say: “I’m sorry I’m late, but 🤸💥🚗.”
How You Use It: It seems to be stars on some sort of headband, so we use it when we’re feeling magical. Really, this is one of those emojis that 1 percent of people use…but those of us who use it love it.
What It Really Means: The official short name is “dizzy.” Use this when you’re seeing stars.
How You Use It: It’s a woman with her arms over her head, so you probably use it to show that you’re feeling overwhelmed. Someone reveals that you’ve won a million dollars or that you are not the father, and this is your go-to.
What It Means: This is called “person gesturing OK,” apparently. We don’t get it either, but hey, the Emoji Gods know best.
How You Use It: This is the emoji you use when you want to show that you’re surprised by something. Your sister tells you that she’s marrying a mermaid, and you’ll pull out the ol’ 😯.
What It Means: This is “hushed face,” so apparently, you’re supposed to use it when you’re being quiet (or when you want someone else to be quiet).
How You Use It: Uh…well, if you use it at all, you’re pretty deep in emoji world. We’ve used this one from time to time to represent a lemon, but we’ve never really felt great about it.
What It Means: It’s a melon. We’ve got to say, this is one of the worst low-resolution representations of a melon we’ve ever seen, and we’ve seen a lot.
How You Use It: It’s a mountain, right? You just use it to refer to mountains. This is an easy one.
What It Really Means: It’s supposed to be Mount Fuji. We can totally see the resemblance…although it also looks like, y’know, every other mountain in the world.
How You Use It: To indicate that something’s hot, or maybe to tell your friends that you’re relaxing with a nice cup of coffee.
What It Means: It’s supposed to be “hot springs,” which makes us wonder whether this emoji artist had ever seen hot springs in their life. Seriously—this looks way more like a barbecue grill.
How You Use It: To show that you’re going to grill out. It looks like a shish kabob, after all.
What It Really Means: This is an oden, a Japanese dish made with tofu, fishcakes, and various other ingredients. It’s a skewer, alright, but it’s not something that you’d find at your typical backyard barbecue.
How You Use It: To show that you’re angry enough to turn red. You could also use this if you’re angry and you’ve got a really bad sunburn.
What It Means: This is “pouting face.” It’s distinct from angry face, which is this guy: 😠. Evidently, you’re supposed to use this when you’re being a big ol’ baby.
How You Use It: You use this to show that you’re frustrated with something, or maybe that you’re angry. Most people use this to show something negative, but initially, it had a much more positive meaning.
What It Means: When added to Unicode 6.0 in 2010, this was listed as “face with look of triumph.” However, people consistently used it as a symbol of frustration, and the name was eventually changed to “face with steam from nose.”
That brings us to a good point: Usage determines meaning, not vice-versa. If you’re using emojis “incorrectly,” don’t worry too much—the important thing is that you’re getting your thoughts across with little tiny pictures instead of words. That’s what’s really important, right? 🤔